Rating: PG (this part)
Genre: AU, romance
Summary: But it was Ed himself, the entire volatile, brilliant, intriguing package, that had Roy so preoccupied.
Notes: The boys took too long getting to the point, so the smexing has been moved to its own chapter. The story itself actually wraps up here, but this is a self-indulgence fic, and I'm indulging.
additional note: for the record, I'm imagining Ed's Japanese VA (Paku Romi) when I describe his singing voice.
"I swear that idiot Tucker has it in for me." Ed yanked a book off the shelf and added it to the growing pile on the floor. "Partnering me with Roy Mustang of all people. Anyone would've been better. Anyone!" He punctuated this with another book. "And to make it worse that asshole is coming here."
"Well, you did invite him," Al pointed out from the kitchen.
Ed ignored this bit of logic. "Biggest fucking jerk in the whole school. Arrogant, smirking jackass—makes me want to punch his face in."
"Brother, I wish you wouldn't be so violent," Al chided, poking his head around the door. "Roy's perfectly nice once you get to know him."
"He's a manipulative, arrogant playboy!" What he didn't want to admit was that the anger kept him from reacting some other way—and making a fool of himself in front of East City University's biggest player. Sometimes it seemed like the guy was flirting with him, but then he'd always pull back, as if Ed wasn't worth his time. It was maddening. No one else got the hot-and-cold treatment.
"Well, yeah, but he's still a nice guy."
Ed rolled his eyes, dropping another book onto the pile. "Only you, Al. You could make friends with anyone." He couldn't imagine Mustang being nice—that way led to treacherous waters.
"You'd make more friends, too, if you weren't such an ass to everyone."
The younger brother had retreated back to the kitchen. "Honestly, Brother, you need to lighten up at school. It's not a competition."
"Yes it is, the entire educational system is set up as a competition."
"Well, it hardly applies to you." Al stopped by the door to the living room again. "I'll be at Fletcher's until late, so try not to destroy anything."
"Yeah, yeah—hey, how are your arms holding up? You really worked them the other day—"
"Not any more than you did," the boy answered with a tolerant smile. He held up one of his metal hands and wiggled the fingers. "I'm fine, Brother. Winry's latest improvements have really made a difference."
Ed smiled. "Yeah, they have."
After his brother left, Ed dropped himself to the floor, idly flexing his automail hand. To the outside observer automail seemed tireless, and in some ways it was; gears and motors didn't feel fatigue the same way muscles did. It was the neural connection that felt the strain. It wasn't heavy lifting but the fine, intricate movements that were the problem. Overtax it and the limb might get sluggish, or even stop responding.
"You'll be able to play again," Winry had promised them, five years ago. "For as long as you want. I swear it!"
Ed leaned over and grabbed the guitar that always sat in the living room, smiling as he curled his automail around the wide, familiar neck. It had taken her several years and many long nights, but she had done it. He and Al couldn't even begin to tell her how grateful they were.
"Don't give me grief, Maes. He's legal."
"'Barely' is enough to hold up in court," Roy shot back, scowling as the light in front of him turned red.
"You know that's not what I'm getting at."
He wondered if his phone's earpiece could pick up his teeth grinding. "I haven't pulled that kind of shit since high school. When are you going to give me a break?"
"When you stop skirting the line," his friend said, calmly. "You come close, Roy. I don't think you even see how close you come."
"Just when have I—" He cut himself off. The other man could probably give him date and time. "This isn't like that."
"No," he ground out, starting forward again when the light turned.
"Just make sure you don't do anything you'll hate yourself for later." The sigh was clear even over the cellular connection. "When are you going to stop these blasted games and actually settle down with someone?"
"I'm telling you, Roy, once you find someone and start a family, you'll wonder why you took so long—"
Pressing the "off" button wasn't quite as satisfying as slamming down a receiver, but it did have the same effect.
He tossed the earpiece onto the passenger's seat, and used the last several blocks to clear his head. Despite what his friend might think (with good reason, a small voice added), this wasn't just about getting into Ed's pants. That was a big part of it, sure, what fool wouldn't want a piece of that? But it was Ed himself, the entire volatile, brilliant, intriguing package, that had Roy so preoccupied.
But to get past the boy's defenses, Roy wasn't above using a few tricks.
It turned out the Elrics lived with the Rockbells, behind the automail shop. Roy spared the shop a curious glance as he walked by, intrigued by the sound of metal being machined. The construction and operation of the prosthetic limbs were complete mysteries to him.
As he stepped onto the porch of the house the machining suddenly stopped, and he became aware of another, softer sound, coming from in front of him. He listened for a moment to the gentle acoustic guitar, marveling at the contrast between it and the music the brothers had played at the Tech Fair, before reaching for the doorbell.
The music cut off, and a moment or two later he heard footsteps. The door was yanked open about a foot, and Ed glared around it.
Roy gave him his best charming smile. "Good morning, Edward. Shall we get started?"
Ed rolled his eyes and turned away, leaving the other man to open the door the rest of the way himself. "Ass," the boy muttered. "The books and shit are in the living room."
Roy glanced around as Ed made his way to the kitchen, his bare feet alternating click-step-click-step against the hardwood floor. The Rockbell house wasn't large and was rather cluttered, but it had a cosy, inviting feel to it. He moved a pile of newspapers to one side and took a seat on the couch.
On the floor in front of the bookcase was a pile of texts that Ed had evidently set aside. Roy picked up one of the top ones, and made an appreciative noise when he saw the title; it was a controversial theoretical work from thirty years ago, and not easy to find.
"You get any grease on those books and you're dead," Ed greeted him as he entered the room. He dropped an open bag of chips onto the coffee table and plopped himself down onto the floor by the pile.
"I'll consider myself warned. Where did you come across this?" he asked, lifting the book in his hands.
The blond shrugged. "It was my dad's. Most of these were his. Look, I've got something in mind for this project, all right?"
Roy raised an eyebrow at the abrasive tone. "Let's hear it, then."
Their assignment was to pick a subject or two, analyze the trends of history, and predict some of the paths that science might take, complete with the potential impact on society. Roy was expecting to see a lot of wild guesses that would resemble science fiction more than science fact.
Ed's take on it, though, would be more of a cautionary tale.
"Interesting. So what drew you to that angle?"
The young man shrugged, studying the stack of books. "Just—seemed like something different."
"I see." Very intriguing. "Let's get started, then."
Several hours later, Roy reflected that Maes really needn't have worried so much. Once they got started, he forgot everything else. Any ploys he may have concocted to seduce the young man fell by the wayside, dropped in favor of the science they were discussing. The perspective Ed presented would have piqued his interest on its own, but with Ed laying out theories and making connections that Roy had never before noticed, the project became fascinating. Probably twice as hard as it would have been otherwise, but he hardly cared.
Then there was Ed himself. Away from the competitive environment of the school and the constant pressure to prove himself and his status as a prodigy, the youth relaxed, and became almost amiable. They spent most of the time arguing, but it was companionable, rather than the sessions of one-upmanship they usually had in class. It was invigorating.
And Roy was completely enthralled.
They finally lifted their heads out of their work when Ed's stomach let out a loud growl. He grinned sheepishly. "I guess it's lunch time."
Roy glanced at the clock on the mantle. "I think we missed lunch."
"Early dinner, then." He unburied his legs from the piles of notes and rose into a stretch, seemingly unaware of the way the older man's eyes were drawn to that graceful arch. "Al left us some chicken salad, we can make sandwiches."
"Sounds good," he replied, grateful that his voice still sounded normal after witnessing that display. He climbed to his feet, trying to work the kinks out of his back after hours of sitting on the floor, and followed.
Ed's hair was braided today, and it whispered against his collar as he walked. Roy had a sudden urge to run his hand along the thick rope, to see if it really was as soft as it looked. But he balled his hands and kept them at his sides, unwilling to risk whatever camaraderie they'd built today. "By the way, where is your brother?" he said instead.
"At a friend's house. They're working on some sort of greenhouse project or something, I dunno." He pulled a large bowl out of the refrigerator and started hunting for some bread.
"The one at the JC? I just read an article about that. I didn't know Al was involved."
"Yeah, he was giving them a hand with the structure, and now he's getting into the horticulture. You should see some of his notes. . . ."
He went on to relate some of Al's theories on planting cycles, sustainable farming, green fertilizer, and other things. It was interesting, but what enchanted Roy the most was the way Ed's face lit up when he talked about his brother. He added this to the growing catalog of All Things Ed, which was swiftly overtaking the Fuckable List in length.
He wasn't sure he wanted to think about what that meant.
They finished their sandwiches and returned to the living room, having gotten off on a tangent of chemical verses organic fertilizers. It was a topic neither of them particularly cared about, but they were having too much fun arguing to let it go.
Ed shot him a look as they settled back down among their notes, then turned aside, suddenly taking a great interest in a nearby text. The expression had been there and gone in an instant, but Roy could've sworn he'd seen a shy sort of uncertainty—something he'd never have thought would cross the blond boy's face.
"By the way," he said into the suddenly awkward silence, "was that you I heard playing when I got here?" He nodded to the guitar tucked into the corner, between two bookshelves.
"Oh, yeah. I was practicing. It was just something I've been working on, kinda off an on, for a while now."
"Something you wrote?"
"Yeah." A small smile and a flush of pride accompanied the admission. It was quite different from the arrogance the youth usually displayed at school.
"I don't suppose I could I hear it? It . . . sounded nice." Inwardly Roy cringed at how lame that had come out. Just how did one talk about music without getting flowery?
Ed shrugged and reached over for the guitar, settling it against his folded legs. "Sorry if it sounds off, this guitar isn't really the best," he explained, running his left hand over the mahogany wood. "I just keep it to practice on." Judging by the way his fingers lingered on a worn patch just above the sound hole, Roy suspected that there was more to it than that.
His automail clicked faintly as he settled his fingers into a cord. He plucked a couple of the strings, lightly, as if testing them, then strummed.
Ed's self-consciousness seemed to melt away as soon as he started playing. His face relaxed, and took on a faraway expression as he started up a pattern of picking, and he soon became lost to the song. The melody was gentle, almost like a lullaby but darker in tone, and Roy found himself drifting with the music. Then, Ed started to sing.
For a moment, Roy forgot to breathe. Ed had a rough-edged tenor; not a classical singing voice, but strong and carrying so much emotion that Roy's heart clenched. The words were secondary. The part of his brain that managed to be objective was appreciating the lyrics, but the singing itself was what carried the meaning. It spoke of loss, pain. Determination.
All too soon, the singing ended, and the last chord trailed off, the strings vibrating softly before being silenced by the flat of a hand. Ed seemed to come back to himself then, glancing up briefly before dropping his eyes and abruptly turning to place the guitar on its stand.
"That's, um, what I have right now. It still needs to be refined."
"Ed, that was. . . ." Roy groped for something appropriate to say. "Good" seemed so inadequate. "That was amazing."
Ed fixed him with a sharp look. He was probably trying to figure out if he was being teased, but for once Roy wasn't playing games. He reached out and took the metal hand in his own, marveling over the intricate joints that let him produce something so breathtaking. Ed looked startled, but didn't pull away. "The song was . . . beautiful. And your playing . . . frankly, I'm blown away."
". . . Thanks." The fingers curled around his for a moment, as the young man seemed to consider something.
A slight tensing of the compact body in front of him was all the warning Roy had before he was knocked over backwards, pinned to the floor with Ed's hands on his shoulders and his knees against his sides.
"You better not be fucking with me. This better not be some—some ploy or game to get into my pants for some love-em-and-leave-em fling—"
"Some what—" He reeled at the sudden shift in both mood and position.
Ed rolled his eyes. "You're the biggest slut in the whole school. Different date every other night. Let me guess, there's some check list, right? A points system? Do you get more of a bonus the younger they are?"
Roy snatched the fringe hanging down on either side of the young man's face, forcing their eyes to meet. "There most certainly. Is. Not."
Ed scowled down at him, his startlingly gold eyes narrowing.
"Look. I know my reputation. I can't say it's not deserved. But I don't use people. If I have a one-night stand it's because both of us wanted it that way." He made sure of that—now. Despite what others, including his best friend, might think, he had sworn he would never hurt someone like that again. "Ed—I've been waiting all term to be able to touch you without getting thrown into jail, do you have any idea what a challenge that's been? Now that I finally can touch you," he drew him down, until they were almost nose to nose, "I have no plans to stop. Any. Time. Soon. Understand me?"
Ed stared at him, his mouth working as he digested this. Roy could hardly blame him for being skeptical. Maybe ten years ago his misgivings would've been justified. There was no denying that Roy still liked his flings, but nowadays he made sure they were understood as flings from the beginning. He did have some morals.
After a long moment, Ed scoffed. "That's got to be the first clear signal you've given me all term." Then kissed him.